March 23, 2021

SXSW: Mental health top of mind

Mary Carroll


Marking the year anniversary of WFH, the SXSW conference looked a bit different this year. COVID-19 was still top of mind, embedded in most sessions as marketers, artists, researchers, etc. discussed how they’ve navigated the pandemic. One common theme that stood out, and one the strategy team is continuously tracking, is the nation’s rising mental health concern.

The trauma of re-entry.

There’s this sense of need to prepare and consider the trauma of re-entry—a new term coined in the session “The Looming Mental Health Crisis Tsunami.” As vaccination rollout continues, we’ll slowly but surely head back into the “real world.” As mentioned in a previous article, some individuals, after a year of being socially distanced, discovered our boundaries, along with the fact that we are indeed introverted and don’t want to go back to the way of things. On the other hand, some of us waited (not-so) patiently by the window for a sign that we could go back to our favorite crowded restaurants, feeling the rush of bodies everywhere. As a society, we need to be aware of the people around us, chip in more to help the communities hit hardest (specifically, low-income), and come together to lift each other up. 

We want to feel in control, especially after a year of feeling out of control. In the session, “Forget Fear: The Tactics Marketers Need to Know,” they discussed using the method of autonomy bias: the propensity for humans to favor suggestions from automated decision making systems. Making consumers feel as if they have a choice makes them more likely to buy from your brand because we have a constant desire to be in control of the choices we make.

It’s incredibly important that brands don’t rush consumers back into a day-to-day life. Brands need to:

  • Continue to harp on safety measures.
  • Give online experiences for those who aren’t ready for retail, giving control back to consumers with a choice.
  • Create online/social content that connects people with others, as we’re all just looking for someone to talk to.

Children are being hit the hardest.

Scientists fear that while the rest of 2021 will have some lasting effects, the effects could affect children longer. They had to witness their parents in high-stress situations, be taken away from their classmates, learn from a screen, and, in some cases, face the first loss in their family. According to CNN, the first 1,000 days are so critical in child development. "While countries are focusing on a response to this pandemic, it's important they don't lose sight of these vulnerable time periods in children's lives. There are some very important issues that can't be set aside."

In the “Social Isolation Interrupters” session, panelists talked about the discovery that people aged 50+ are likely to feel less lonely than younger individuals. Mental wellness will play a huge role in these younger individuals’ development as they recover from the lasting stressors of the pandemic, and as we discover where they need help the most. 

There’s already predictions that this will birth a new generation, Gen C, because it will ultimately affect their behaviors as we recover. Brands need to:

  • Keep a pulse on research studies that focus on COVID-19’s lasting effects on children.
  • Help students transition back from school. If your brand’s product can encourage mental wellness and be used at school, it’s going to set kids up for success.
  • Equip parents with resources to connect and check in with their kids.

“The Pivot to Growth: The Business of Experience” session discussed the symbolism behind the PANTONE 2021 Colors of the Year and I think it aligns with the findings we discovered at SXSW pertaining to mental health: the desire to feel safe and comfortable mixed with the desire to want pre-pandemic life back are of the utmost importance. 

Pantone’s 2021 Colors of the Year are described as follows:

“As people look for ways to fortify themselves with energy, clarity, and hope to overcome the continuing uncertainty, spirited and emboldening shades satisfy our quest for vitality. PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating is a bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity, a warming yellow shade imbued with solar power. PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray is emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation. The colors of pebbles on the beach and natural elements whose weathered appearance highlights an ability to stand the test of time, Ultimate Gray quietly assures, encouraging feelings of composure, steadiness and resilience.”

The question brands will need to ask themselves is: are consumers looking to experience PANTONE’s Illumination feeling of energy and hope or the safe dependability of PANTONE’s Ultimate Gray?

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